Ten years ago today Ryan Owens, 16 may have been a victim of the region’s air pollution

July 19, 2016 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor

Smog Wendy

This picture was taken on the Evansville Riverfront in the late afternoon, the day Ryan Owens died while practicing football in Henderson, KY. While Owens’ death brought about some changes in the way some coaches deal with heat, Valley Watch has found that most officials and school administrators dismiss the serious problems that breathing fouled air can cause. Photo:© 2006 Wendy Bredhold

I sent the following letter to the editors of the Evansville Courier Press and the Henderson Gleaner to commemorate the sad tenth anniversary of Henderson HS football player, Ryan Owens

“Ryan Owens took his last breath ten years ago Tuesday,” the lead of your story “Ryan’s Legacy” July 19, 2016 was certainly appropriate although without intention. 

Breathing pollution may have been the real cause of Ryan’s tragic death which was ultimately blamed on a heart condition, brought on by heat and exertion at a Henderson High School football practice.  

On the day Ryan passed, not only were we in a serious weeklong heat spell, but that was also a day when fine particle pollution in the region reached levels more than twice the health based standard set by the USEPA. In fact, the level that morning was extraordinarily high at the time of the practice where Ryan collapsed and later died. Further investigation also reveals that the temperature that morning was in the low 80s and had not reached the levels it would later in the afternoon that day. Thus, temperature is not likely the only geophysical attribute involved.

Ryan Owens, at 16, died from complication of an unknown heart condition on this day in 2006 while practicing football in henderson, KY. It is Valley Watch's position that such practices should either be cancelled or taken indoors to a more welcome environment when air pollution alerts are called.

Ryan Owens, at 16, died from complication of an unknown heart condition on this day in 2006 while practicing football in henderson, KY. It is Valley Watch’s position that such practices should either be cancelled or taken indoors to a more welcome environment when air pollution alerts are called.

Research before and after Ryan’s death has shown that the same heart “defect” Ryan had is also one that can present serious health problems on days when fine particle pollution is high or even moderate when other factors like strenuous exercise are present. Of course, that is why it is important to take precaution when so called “Air Pollution Alerts” are issued for “sensitive people” since that category includes young athletes and the elderly. 

Following Ryan’s death, Valley Watch has made a nearly futile effort to insist that all schools adhere to strict compliance with air pollution alerts as they are issued, both for ozone and fine particles. When there is an air alert, schools should cancel outdoor practice and move the practice into weather controlled gyms to keep their students safe. 

The same goes for Band practice since Band members also exert a great deal of energy playing instruments from the Tuba to Drums. And I dont think Band members are required to undergo any sort of physical exam to show their physical worthiness of participating like their athlete counterparts are required. It seems many school officials wear blinders when it comes to air pollution and simply dismiss the science that shows a distinct correlation between numerous health problems, including death, and high pollution days. Valley Watch’s outreach to local and regional school officials has shown that there is huge resistance to canceling practice and cancelling a game would take divine intervention regardless of the level of air pollution that may be present.

Such refusal belies the rhetoric espoused by almost everyone that student safety is foremost in the minds of educators. 

Valley Watch would be happy to share EPA data that backs our position with any teacher or official who requests it. Simply contact: Blair@valleywatch.net

 

 

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Valley Watch asks regional congressional delegation to oppose Trans Pacific Partnership

July 5, 2016, by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor

Several months ago, Valley Watch, Inc.’s board passed a resolution asking our regional congressional delegation to oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership. Since the TPP is now up for further debate in Congress, we sent the Resolution to all of our regional congressional delegation. That resolution is below. We urge other organizations who care about health and the environment of US citizens to do the same.

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 4.15.29 PM

 

 

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Monthly coal use for U.S. power falls to lowest since 1978: EIA

June 27, 2016 – by Scott DiSavino, Reuters

Coal Dirty & Expensive

Coal used to generate U.S. power fell in April to its lowest monthly level since 1978, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a report.

Coal-fired power plants generated just 72.2 million megawatt hours in April, their lowest since April 1978, according to EIA data released on Friday. One megawatt is enough to power about 1,000 U.S. homes. 

Natural gas, meanwhile, surpassed coal as the United States’ top fuel source for the third straight month, producing 100.0 million MWh in April, the EIA said.

Of the total 293.3 million MWh generated in April, gas accounted for 34 percent and coal just 25 percent.

The EIA said gas produced a record 1.362 billion MWh, or about 34 percent of the total, in the year through April 30, compared with 1.250 billion MWh, or 31 percent, for coal. 

Other major sources of power production over the year were nuclear at 20 percent, and non-hydro and solar renewables, such as wind, at 7 percent, the EIA said. 

The agency has previously forecast generators would burn more gas than coal in 2016 for the first year.

Coal has been the primary fuel source for U.S. power plants for the last century, but its use has been declining since peaking in 2007. That was around the same time drillers started pulling gas out of shale formations. Continue reading

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Rutter: Not much reason for Hoosiers to celebrate Earth Day

April 25, 2016 – by Dave Rutter in the Chicago Tribune

Illustration © 2011 John Blair

Illustration © 2011 John Blair

We’ve celebrated Earth Day for 46 years to inspire ourselves, challenge old ideas and motivate people to take care of their planet.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes no one really listens. What has Indiana been hearing for 4 ½ decades?

At least Indiana wasn’t the least green, most regressive state in America for the April 22 celebration — that’s Wyoming — but statistical assessments of Indiana’s environment add a dour tone to the party.

In the spectrum of greenness, Indiana is a dull brown.

It Doesn't Even MatterDozens of such assessments cross my electronic threshold every month, and it’s a useful to measure your state. Being intelligent about the world’s fitness gives you choices, though facts don’t always make you happier.

Dozens of such assessments cross my electronic threshold every month, and it’s a useful to measure your state. Being intelligent about the world’s fitness gives you choices, though facts don’t always make you happier.

Perhaps one of the studies will brighten my day, so I can brighten yours.

The Indiana where I was a child and grew to manhood is firmly affixed in my memory. Unfortunately the state that looks back at me in the mirror every morning is not that state.

Maybe what I believed to be true 40 years ago was never true. Indiana is polluted and indifferent to the environment now, and maybe it was then, too.

The evidence of eco-denial is depressingly consistent.

In fact, these dire surveys produced predictable howls of dismay from Hoosiers who do not think the statistics are accurate. We recycle trash. We have wind farms. We even make Subarus, for Pete’s sake. How much more “green” do you want?

But that’s like denying climate change by pointing to a nearby pile of Hoosier lake-effect snow.

If you value truth in numbers, Indiana is not only less “green” than states that make a big deal about that, Indiana also is less green than states just barely above Third World status. Hoosiers are less green than Alabamans and Mississippians.

The next time your neighbor smirks at China’s indifference to lung-strangling pollution, remember that Indiana is similarly bad, though on a much smaller scale.

Last year, every consumer and environmental agency that compiles the data with differently nuanced methodologies found the same thing. The 2016 report by personal finance website WalletHub ranked Indiana 47th out of 50 states in Eco-Friendliness, and 43rd in Environmental Quality.

It’s been the same for 10 years.

That report compared each state by 14 key metrics that speak to the health of the current environment as well as the environmental impact of people’s daily habits.

Indiana scored below average in every category, including air quality (48th), water quality (30th), number of green buildings per capita, (31st) and gasoline consumption per capita (28th).

Here’s Indiana’s report card:

39th – Percentage of Municipal Solid Waste Recycled

38th – Percentage of Energy Consumption from Renewable Sources

39th – Energy Efficiency Scorecard

44th – Percentage of the Population Not Driving to Work

Why is Indiana not “green?”

The Indiana Business Research Center at IU’s Kelley School of Business studies green industry in Indiana and says the state has 47,000 “green” jobs. Sounds good.

But Kelley researchers admit they don’t how many such jobs exist or what defines green. Some industries self-identify themselves as “green” without much evidence.

You can’t measure what you can’t count.

Perhaps you might think “green” is 20 entrepreneurial college kids who invent a radical solar power array that produces electricity cheaper than coal-powered plants. They could make millions of dollars and save the planet.

Of Kelley’s green careers, most are variations of air-conditioning installers, farm produce handlers and separators and support administrators. Of those involved in producing renewable energy, Indiana has only about 4,000.

If you’re a street paver who applies slightly less noxious tar mixtures to the road, Indiana labels you a “green” worker.

Mostly, Indiana is not a green state because Indiana’s government cares more about other goals. Protecting coal jobs, for example.

Jobs in any culture define the culture. This trade of values is the eternal Indiana struggle. Some states find a more sustainable balance. Others — like Indiana — don’t.

When Indiana disenfranchised its Department of Environmental Management and Department of Natural Resources by slashing their budgets, that sent an unmistakable signal.

If you lived in one of the three “greenest” states — Vermont, Washington or Massachusetts — conservation and eco-values would be as important as jobs.

Your state government would talk incessantly and passionately about its quality of life goals and environmental achievements.

In fact, a state’s passion for more modern jobs would be all-consuming. “Green” industry and invention are signals that states care about their planet.

Did that ever sound like Indiana? Did we ever really care? I asked the mirror. It said no.

David.Rutter@live.com

Copyright © 2016, Post-Tribune

 

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POLAR BEAR LOVE: Cute polar bear cubs lovin’ up their mamma

April 4, 2016 – Video by Andrew Manske on YouTube

Two adorable newborn polar bear cubs play with their mother while they journey to the frozen sea. One cute cub climbs and hangs off mother’s back. Features cubs play-fighting and nursing with mom. Very cute video! Footage copyright: Parks Canada.
Cinematographer: www.AndrewManske.com 
All scenes filmed in the wilds of northern Manitoba, Canada, near Hudon’s Bay.

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Will Indiana taxpayers be left holding the bag for Peabody Energy’s irresponsibility?

March 16, 2016 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor. It should be noted that Valley Watch has oft challenged Peabody Energy and is proud to say that we took them on and won an important eight year battle to kill their proposed 1500 megawatt Thoroughbred Power plant in Muhlenberg County, KY.

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Peabody Energy who used to proudly proclaim to be the “world’s largest privately owned coal company,” is definitely on the verge of bankruptcy. Today, the company which has seen its stock prices fall significantly over the past year, told investors that it failed to meet its financial obligations to pay $71 million interest on its debt which were due today.

The stock market responded today  on the news with Peabody’s already failing stock collapsing nearly 46% at this writing to a mere $2.15/share. That leaves a total Market Capitalization of for the distressed company of only $39.9 Million. This all comes after a horrible year for the beleaguered company which already saw a “reverse stock split” which shareholders had to forfeit 15 shares for a new single share in the fourth quarter of 2015.

This is bad news for Indiana since the Indiana Department of Natural Resources has routinely allowed Peabody to “self bond” on the set aside money for reclamation  work required by the Federal Government strip mine law passed in 1977 that calls for coal mined land to be restored to its approximate “original contour.” Currently IDNR records indicate that Peabody is supposed to maintain $163 million in bonds to cover closure costs for its six Indiana mines, all in southwest Indiana, including the largest strip mine east of the Mississippi River called Bear Run near Carlisle.

Huge mining machines called draglines are used to scoop up more than 150 cubic yards of earth with each pass. Strip mining is one of the most destructive things that man has done to the earth. Photo © 2010 John Blair.

Huge mining machines called draglines are used to scoop up more than 150 cubic yards of earth with each pass at the Peabody Bear Run mine near Carlisle, IN. Strip mining is one of the most destructive things that man has done to the earth. Now, with Peabody’s almost certain bankruptcy, it is questionable that Peabody will be able to meets its liabilities to the State of Indiana to restore the land at six Indiana mines. Should that happen, will Hoosier taxpayers be on the hook for cleaning up Peabody’s horrible mess. Photo © 2010 John Blair.

That $163 million is more than three times the current total market capitalization of the entire company. The Chicago based, Environmental Law and Policy Center has challenged IDNR on its continued use of self bonding, insisting that Hoosier taxpayers should receive a modicum of protection and not be left holding the bag for Peabody’s serious indiscretions.

Peabody went public in 2004 and saw its original offering of $27.share rise rapidly to $81 and higher during its heyday. But, as the coal industry in total has gone from bad to worse in recent years, the stock is nearly without value.

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Doctor’s prescription: Less I&M pollution

March 8, 2016 – by Dr. Norma Kreilein in the Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette

Doctor sees effects of Rockport coal plant on her young patients

AEP Rockport 2

AEP/ I&M Rockport plant is a 2,600 megawatt plant located hundreds of miles away from the customers that use the electricity it generates, leaving residents of SW Indiana to experience illness and even death due to its massive pollution. © 2013 BlairPhotoEVV.

As a pediatrician in southwest Indiana, I regularly see young patients come into my office struggling with asthma, allergies, lung conditions or other ailments. We do our best to provide care and treatment to manage these conditions, but there are some forces that seem beyond our control.

Recently I learned that Indiana Michigan Power’s AEP-Rockport coal-fired power plant is the second-worst industrial polluter in our state and dumped nearly 6 million pounds of toxic pollution into our air, land and water in 2014. What’s worse, last year I&M rejected a plan to replace half of the AEP-Rockport coal-burning power plant with clean energy like wind, solar and energy efficiency. I&M’s greedy decision to choose a more expensive plan will cause 30 more years of harm to children living here, who suffer from air pollution on a daily basis.

When I moved back home to southern Indiana’s DuBois County in 1989 to begin my medical practice, I didn’t know I would become involved in battles to reduce air pollution from coal-burning power plants that threaten the health of children in my community. However, my oath as a doctor requires me to do no less than whatever I can to fight for clean air for my patients.

The health effects from burning coal are well known. Scientists from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis have documented that brain-damaging mercury ends up in the soil, air and water around coal-fired plants. The University of Cincinnati has linked soot pollution to increased risk for stillbirth and prematurity, and I believe air pollution is likely one of the causes of Indiana’s high infant mortality rate.

I’ve seen the effects of air pollution every day in more than 25 years of caring for children’s health in the shadow of coal-burning power plants like AEP-Rockport. If you could see the abnormally high number of children with allergies, sinus problems and chronic illness in my community, you would want to do something, too.

My problem with pollution is that it pollutes children’s bodies. The problem with mercury is that it ends up in a kid’s brain. And the problem with particulates is that they end up in a kid’s lungs.

More than 300,000 concerned doctors in the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association and the American Thoracic Society collectively agree with the federal Clean Power Plan and its goal of reducing dangerous air pollution from power plants.

I find it frustrating that sulfur dioxide monitors are found in only seven of Indiana’s 92 counties. Positioning them as far away from the coal plants as possible isn’t ethical, doesn’t adequately protect children living near the plants and is an appalling example of how Indiana officials cherry pick data to arrive at the results they want.

It is irresponsible for I&M President Paul Chodak to promote his company’s 20-year energy plan to customers in northern Indiana without mentioning the billions of dollars that he wants to spend prolonging the life of an outdated, dangerous and deadly coal-burning power plant in southwest Indiana. I&M and its parent company, AEP Corp., need to stop filling our air with toxic pollution and start accelerating the transition to clean energy. The lives of my patients, friends and neighbors depend upon it.

Dr. Norma Kreilein is a pediatrician based in Washington, Indiana. 

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Watching coal plants crumble to a Tchaikovsky score is insanely satisfying

February 26, 2016 – by Melissa Cronin in Grist

Hearing the news that a coal plant, a facility that once belched CO2, mercury, sulphur, nitrogen oxides, and other hazardous chemicals into the air, is shutting down is certainly a cause to celebrate. Seeing it explode in glorious high definition and set to lively classical music is another thing altogether.

Duke Energy, the largest electric power holding company in the U.S., released a video this week showing the death of four of its old coal power plants, giving environmentalists an awesome soundtrack to the death of the coal industry.

The video shows the demolition of Weatherspoon, H.F. Lee, Cape Fear, and Cliffside, all facilities in North Carolina. The demolitions, set to a rousing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, are nothing short of transfixing.

A spokesperson for Duke Energy told Grist that the plants were mainly operated from the 1930s to the ’60s, and were destroyed as a way to celebrate “modernizing the way we generate power for the past decade.” But as the company transitioned away from coal, it looked to natural gas as its main money-maker and maintained its spot atop the country’s worst carbon emitters in 2015.

Thanks in large part to cheap natural gas, many of America’s coal plants have been reduced to rubble — or are about to be. As of last November, over 200 coal-fired stations had been retired or were scheduled for retirement. According to an analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance last year, about 17 percent of U.S. coal-fired power generation is expected to disappear over the next few years. It’s been said that the coal industry is “in terminal decline,” and there’s no better way to visualize that than the crumbling of an enormous, dirty power plant.

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Yes, it Crocus time of the year

February 23, 2016 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor.

Sometimes it happens as early as January, this year it was late February but one sure sign of good things to come is the appearance of crocus which are always the first flowers to bloom nearly every winter (of course that does not count dandelions). © 2016 BlairPhotoEVVIMGP0421

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Cardinals arrive at my bird feeder for Valentines Day

February 14, 2016 – Photo © 2016 BlairPhotoEVV

Several Cardinals finally found my bird feeder today. This one seems to be talking to me, asking how he should pose. 

Cardinal

Cardinal © 2016 BlairPhotoEVV

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Indiana already at risk of Flint-style water problems

February 12, 2016 – by Mary Dieter in the Indiana Business Journal

The school counselor told her it would shave just a few points off her child’s IQ.

That’s what a mother said in an interview in Flint, Michigan, where residents drank lead-poisoned water for 18 months before their indifferent government belatedly took steps to stop it.

© 2010 Illustration by John Blair

© 2010 Illustration by John Blair

Just a few IQ points for a kid who already is starting life more than a few steps behind, living in a city of 99,000 where median household income is half that of the United States, 42 percent of residents live in poverty, and 57 percent are black.

Just a few IQ points. As stomach-churning as that is, it’s not the whole story. Lead poisoning can cause failure to thrive, behavioral issues, high blood pressure, joint pain, kidney damage, memory loss, mood disorders, and possibly miscarriages and criminal behavior.

The Michigan governor, his environmental agency and the regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency systematically covered up and profoundly let down Flint residents, more determined to save money than save futures, more concerned about deflecting blame than preventing damage. The Region 5 EPA administrator and Michigan’s top environmental official have resigned. Gov. Rick Snyder should, too, but he has merely apologized. Their actions are far too little, far too late, for the Flint families who might be irreversibly harmed by their alleged leaders’ apathy and ineptitude.

When horrible things happen to somebody else, we tend to take smug solace in thinking, “It can’t happen here.”

Only I have zero faith that something like the Flint disaster can’t happen in Indiana, where every action by the current governor and his predecessor has been weighed against political consequences, where the slightest possible imposition on business (read: contributors) immediately renders worthless any environmental-protection proposal. Govs. Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence have fought environmental protections at every turn and weakened the state’s ability to go after polluters.

The state—whose water was deemed by a 2014 study as more polluted by industrial chemicals than that of any other state—recently joined a lawsuit challenging federal authority to protect some streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act. Meanwhile, Pence has criticized President Obama’s Clean Power Plan—a response to climate change—but is making no visible headway toward deciding if the state should write its own plan. He asked environmental groups early on for their ideas, but discussions since have gone behind closed doors, leaving common citizens out of a matter that deeply affects them. Continue reading

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If Flint water is unsafe, what about yours?

January 27, 2016 – By Jasmine Watts in Great lakes Echo. Editor’s Note: Evansville has had its own lead problem and although not as ubiquitous and pervasive as the problem in Flint, it was every bit as much of a threat to human development for those who were forced to live in lead tainted neighborhoods. Sadly, that problem, once discovered, took more than twenty years to correct due to the lack of official leadership concern in Evansville as well as bureaucrat morass and delay. How many of us actually know if we have lead solder or lead piping for our service lines? The use of faucet filters is always a wise investment.Water

While Flint struggles with lead in its water, other aging Michigan communities also have water lines made of the health-threatening metal.

The National Drinking Water Advisory Council said in 2014 that there is no safe level of lead. It’s a costly problem to address.

An American Water Works Association report, “Buried No Longer,” said the nation needs to replace aging pipelines that may contain lead or may leak. Over a 25-year span, “Buried No Longer” estimates that the country’s new drinking infrastructure will cost $1 trillion.

According to the report, the total replacement cost of water pipes in the Midwest would be about $486 billion. Public Sector Consultants is analyzing Michigan’s infrastructure to find costs and needs related to fixing or replacing wastewater and drinking water systems. The Lansing-based research and program management firm specializes in governance and regulation, health care, education, energy and environmental policy.

“Although the report is still being drafted and we can’t release the results, part of our analysis is looking at the flaws in the EPA survey about drinking water,” said Jon Beard, a consultant at Public Sector Consultants.

Beard says that there have been far too many underreported cases of decrepit pipelines that lead to underestimating the problem. The assessment of need in the EPA survey is for 20 years from the time of the survey, which also causes discrepancies.

Homes with plumbing systems built before 1978 have copper and cast iron pipe connections. The American Water Works Association report says that these pipes can contain lead.

“If there is lead within one source in the home, there is probably lead in other sources,” said Angela Minicuci, public information officer for the Department of Community Health and Human Services. “Lead poisoning has been a problem and will always be a problem until we get all lead risks out of homes.”
Minicuci recommends that people who live in homes built before 1978 get tested for lead poisoning because of lead in pipelines and in paint.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is no safe blood level of lead and that even low levels have been shown to have an effect, especially among children.

Lead poisoning can affect mental and physical development and at very high levels can be fatal.

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Alcoa To cease smelter operation at Warrick facility

600 Employees facing termination

January 7, 2016 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor

Alcoa's sprawling 900 + sure facility in Warrick County, just east of Newburgh has been the largest aluminum smelter in the nation for several years as others have been forced to close due to economic issues with the price of aluminum. Now, like the others, a substantial portion of the Warrick plant will shut down in 2016. © 2016 BlairPhotoEVV

Alcoa’s sprawling 900 + sure facility in Warrick County, just east of Newburgh has been the largest aluminum smelter in the nation for several years as others have been forced to close due to economic issues with the price of aluminum. Now, like the others, a substantial portion of the Warrick plant will shut down in 2016. © 2016 BlairPhotoEVV

UnknownAlcoa, the largest primary aluminum producer in the nation announced today that it is permanently shutting down smelter operation at its Warrick facility which was the largest smelter left operating in the United States. In their announcement, they also said that about 600 employees would lose their jobs.

Alcoa has operated the smelter since 1960 and employs just under 2,000 people in total at the Warrick County facility located just east of Newburgh, IN.

Alcoa claims their decision was based strictly on market issues which have forced the price of aluminum to historic lows due to international competition.

Alcoa did say that their power plants and rolling mills will remain open and it is only the smelter part of the business that will be shuttered permanently.

Their claim that they will keep open their power plants is curious since the primary need for the electric power is smelting. If the smelters are closed, and they keep the power plants operating, it can be assumed that they will operate their power plants as so called “merchants” selling their power on the open market. But that market is not good these days as renewable energy and natural gas have caused the retirement of numerous coal fired power plants across the country,

It should be noted that the power plants operate mainly to supply energy for the smelting process and with that shutting down the demand for power will diminish considerably. Currently, the power plants that carry a nameplate capacity of 800 megawatts in total do not sell power on the open market.

However, the Warrick Unit 4 is “jointly owned with Vectren with each owning 135 MW. At this time, it is unclear how all the power will be divided although Vectren has no plans to give up their portion. If Alcoa’s part of Warrick 4 is sufficient to operate the remaining operations at the plant, then it could well be that Units 1, 2 and 3 will be permanently shuttered. This is especially so since there are a number of environmental issues those 1960’s plants must contend with, including Carbon Dioxide as it pertain to climate change. Continue reading

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Christmas Card VW

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First-Ever National Wild Bee Map Shows Major Decline in Crucial Agricultural Regions

December 22, 2015 – by Cole Mellino in EcoWatch

Web  Bee 2-27

Simple observation in the Valley Watch garden over the last few years bears out the severe reduce ion in honey bees in this region. This bee was an early explorer several years ago in the garden e=collecting pollen from a crocus in February. © BlairPhotoEVV

A team of researchers at the University of Vermont (UVM) created the first national study, which mapped wild bee populations. Their findings, which were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, confirm that native pollinators are in major decline in crucial agricultural regions of the U.S. They estimate that between 2008 and 2013, wild bee abundance declined in 23 percent of the contiguous U.S.

Wild bee populations are in serious decline across the U.S. Photo credit: Proceedings of the Nati
Wild bee populations are in serious decline across the U.S. Photo credit: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

“If losses of these crucial pollinators continue, the new nationwide assessment indicates that farmers will face increasing costs—and that the problem may even destabilize the nation’s crop production,” the researchers said.

The study found that 39 percent of U.S. croplands that depend on pollinators face a “threatening mismatch between rising demand for pollination and a falling supply of wild bees.” They propose setting aside 7 million acres of land for pollinators over the next five years.

They identified 139 counties where this “mismatch” is most striking. These counties included agricultural regions of California such as the Central Valley, Pacific Northwest, upper Midwest and Great Plains, west Texas and the southern Mississippi River valley. Crops such as pumpkins, watermelons, pears, peaches, plums, apples and blueberries are most at risk because they are most dependent on pollination.

Researchers identified 139 counties that are especially at risk for pollinator decline. Photo credit: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Researchers identified 139 counties that are especially at risk for pollinator decline. Photo credit: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

“Until this study, we didn’t have a national mapped picture about the status of wild bees and their impacts on pollination,” Koh, a researcher at UVM’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, said—even though each year more than $3 billion of the U.S. agricultural economy depends on the pollination services of native pollinators like wild bees.

The researchers cite “numerous threats” to wild bees, including pesticide use, climate change, disease and habitat loss.  Continue reading

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